It's hard to believe the Packers are a 3-1 team.
It's especially hard to believe with all the gloom and doom talk amongst fans after what has been a pretty bad week for the team on the injury and public relations fronts.
First, the Packers missed out on getting Marshawn Lynch, as the Bills traded the running back to the Seahawks for a fourth-round pick next year and a conditional pick in 2012, an offer Packers general manager Ted Thompson could easily have matched or beaten.
Then Brett Favre finally got his wish and got Randy Moss to throw to in Minnesota. This blockbuster move triggered all sorts of "the sky is falling" talk amongst Packer fans. Moss torched the Packers often during his first stint with the Vikings, and now with the Packers being weak at safety, the same fears have appeared again.
Finally, linebacker Nick Barnett will reportedly miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury, and coach Mike McCarthy said Brandon Chillar also likely will miss Sunday's game in Washington, DC.
Happy days in Dairyland, eh?
After barely getting by the Detroit Lions at home 28-26, the Packers limp (again, not a word you'd usually associate with a 3-1 team) into Washington DC to face the Washington Redskins, who are coming off a 17-12 win over the Eagles in Philadelphia.
Breaking down the Redskins
Once again the Packers go up against Mike Shanahan, who had the team's number in Super Bowl XXXII, a loss that former GM Ron Wolf called the most bitter loss to swallow of his entire Packers career.
That said, this is obviously not the same team, nor is Shanahan the same coach. Shanahan has been humbled after surprisingly being fired from Denver almost two years ago, and instead of sticking with the 4-3 defense he had in Denver, Shanahan has moved to a 3-4 in Washington, with the unit being led by former Saints head coach Jim Haslett.
On offense, the big star is obviously starting quarterback Donovan McNabb. Despite his age, McNabb is still an elusive quarterback and can still make all the throws, whether they be on the run or from inside the pocket. Despite a lackluster game in Philadelphia, McNabb has brought an immediate spark to the Washington offense that was lacking under former coach Jim Zorn.
Like the Packers, the Redskins face questions regarding their rushing attack. With Clinton Portis being out for four to six weeks and having waived former Chief Larry Johnson, Ryan Torain will answer the bell. Torain played under Shanahan in Denver, and everyone knows that the Broncos were a running back factory when Shanahan was coaching there.
Chris Cooley is one of the loudest and most talented tight ends in the game and will give the Packers linebackers fits, especially with Barnett likely done for the year. Clay Matthews can either blitz or drop back into coverage, but not both at the same time, so someone will have to step up. A.J. Hawk, if you want to remain a Packer, now is the time to show it.
Defensively, the Redskins are a work in progress. Albert Haynesworth's antics have been well documented, and he still has yet to reclaim his place in the starting lineup. Second-year linebacker Brian Orakpo anchors a solid linebacking corps along with All-Pro ageless wonder London Fletcher.
In the secondary are the bombastic DeAngelo Hall and safety LaRon Landry, who will provide unique challenges to the Packers' plethora of offensive weapons.
When the Packers have the ball...
I would love to say watch the Packers establish the running game, but unfortunately there is no running game to establish. Brandon Jackson is struggling, and while John Kuhn has shown promise, it is not known whether or not he is or can be an every down back.
That means as usual the Packers will have to rely on the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the speed of his receivers to move the ball and score points. The Redskins obviously know this, and they should be playing a lot of nickel and dime, as the Packers' running game is no threat.
If Kuhn or Jackson is going to prove to be the answer in the backfield this season, this is the game they have to show something.
When the Redskins have the ball...
Look for Shanahan to utilize all of McNabb's talents. McNabb's old backup, Michael Vick, showed how poorly the Packers handle a quarterback that can scramble, so No. 5 will try to expose the same weaknesses that Vick did.
Defensively, the Packers have to contain McNabb. Sending a blitz from each side would help, but then that could expose the middle of the field to either Cooley or Joey Galloway. With Barnett being out, the pressure is on Matthews and Hawk to get to the quarterback and disrupt his rhythm.
Charles Woodson matches up with Moss here, so Woodson will have to be fast in this game as well as physical. This matchup favors Woodson.
Three keys to the game...
1. Is the Packers' locker room truly peaceful?
Woodson's comments to Jim Rome might spell trouble. With Rodgers saying he wanted Lynch (before the trade to be fair) and now with Woodson saying (after the trade) that getting Lynch would have been the logical choice, one has to wonder if the Packers players are not questioning Thompson's methods.
Favre lobbying for Moss was one thing, but with your offensive and defensive leaders questioning your methods, Thompson may have made a foolish mistake that starts the dominoes falling.
Between this and the Moss trade to the Vikings, the Packers could be facing a public relations nightmare if their running game keeps struggling and the Vikings offense catches fire. That's only the fans, mind you. But if the players begin doubting the leadership of Thompson and McCarthy, this season that held so much promise it could go up in flames before the bye week.
2. Will McNabb make the Packers defense a Vick-tim of his legs?
The Packers nearly blew their season opener in Philadelphia by failing to stop the elusive Vick. While McNabb is not nearly as elusive, he could still do enough damage scrambling that it could turn a close game the Redskins' way.
Matthews, Hawk, and company will need to keep on eye on McNabb and get to him as quickly as possible.
3. Will the Packers' rushing attack get going?
Personally, I have no faith in Jackson and Kuhn to carry the load the rest of the way. Letting Lynch get away could go down as one of Thompson's biggest blunders as GM. Once the weather turns, the Packers will need a strong rushing attack to propel any kind of deep playoff run.
There is little doubt Rodgers can carry this team. A lot of teams have made it to the Super Bowl with an inept rushing attack, last year's Colts being the most recent. However, teams that WIN the Lombardi Trophy have a solid tailback, and the Packers don't even have an average back right now, let alone a good one.
Redskins 21, Packers 17
Look, I could be very wrong about all this. It's just that everything in my gut and brain tells me the Packers are in deep, deep trouble. The failure to get Lynch. Barnett out for the year. Woodson's remarks. All are early warning signs that the Packers could collapse.
Again, I could be wrong. I WANT to be wrong. Nothing would make me happier than to see Jackson or Kuhn have a breakout game and the Packers coast to a title.
That said, when you consider the 18 penalties against a Bear team that is what we thought it was, followed by a weak performance against the Lions, you are not instilling much confidence in your fans.
Packer fans, take off the green and gold goggles and look at what is in front of you.
2010 could indeed be a winter of discontent for Cheesehead Nation. Let's hope not.
Follow Kris Burke on Twitter @KBurkeNFL
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